The Horses are Coming

Some of the best riders in the world will saddle up in L.A. this week for the Longines Master Grand Slam, an equestrian show jumping meet. Competitor Jessica Springsteen tells us what to expect

Followers of equestrian show jumping had to look to Europe for the highest level of competition—until now. Starting Thursday one of the sport’s most prestigious events, the Longines Master Grand Slam Indoor, begins four days of competition at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as horses and riders from around the world tackle jumps of heart-stopping heights and widths. The action, which includes a speed challenge Friday night, culminates Sunday in a grand prix that features the tallest and most demanding jumps of the week. Among the grand prix competitors is Jessica Springsteen, the only daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa. The rising young American equestrian trains at the family’s farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey. Fresh from her victory aboard her horse Vindicat W at the $200,000 American Gold Cup in North Salem, N.Y., the 23-year-old shares what goes into becoming a contender in her sport.

The jumps in grand prix are enormous! Can you describe for those new to show jumping what a horse, in terms of physicality and attitude, needs to possess to be able to compete on these demanding courses.
Yes, the courses are very tall; it’ll be about 1 meter 60, and they’ll also be very technical, so it’s important that the horse and rider are really in tune. The horse needs to be listening to the rider, to go forward, to slow down, and every move needs to be made in half a second. For me, since I’m newer at this level, I like to have a horse that’s really brave and really confident and that makes me feel good about going into a course that is that big and that demanding. That’s exactly what my horse Vindicat is like; he’s got a big pace and he loves to jump, so he really goes at the fences, and that makes me feel better when I’m jumping a big round.

How do you prepare for events like Longines? For one thing, you’re not jumping those heights and widths every day as it would be too strenuous for horse and rider. What’s the average height of the jumps on a training course and what’s the nature and percentage of flat work you are doing?
My horses have been consistently showing all summer so they don’t really need much preparation since they’ve been jumping really well. It is mostly flat work; it’s really important that the horse is adjustable and that he’s sitting straight because the courses at competitions like the Masters are very technical and they ask a lot from the horse and rider, so it’s important that the horse is listening and that they’re feeling good. Then he’ll jump once before I go to the show, and we’ll just go over some small fences and then jump a couple of slightly taller verticals. We’ll do a small course, maybe 140, then jump a tall 150 vertical. If they’re feeling good, they’ll go from there.

Which of your horses will you be riding for the Longines grand prix? Tell us about him.
I’ll be riding Vindicat W, and I’ll also be showing Davendy S. Vindicat I’ve had for a couple years. I know him really well. He’s done every big grand prix course with me, so I feel really comfortable going into a show like the Masters. And I’ll be showing Davendy, who’s a new ride for me. I got her at the end of the summer, and I showed her in Dublin and she won a class there. She’s a really great mare, she’s super fast and really competitive, so I’m excited to do some of the big speed classes on her in LA.

You’ve been competing in the Nation’s Cup events in Europe. Describe the richness of the show jumping scene there.
In Europe it’s really one of their top sports. They get a full crowd, which is really exciting for the horse and rider and gives the atmosphere a very high energy. You can really feel that when you’re in the ring. They’re also a very educated crowd, everyone has kind of grown up around horses, they know show jumping, they know the riders, they know the horses, so it’s really fun to compete in big arenas that have a lot of history.

Why should people who know nothing about show jumping attend the Longines events? What will they experience?
I think that show jumping is very exciting, especially at a show like the Longines Masters where it’s a really high quality of competition. They’re going to be seeing the best riders in the world and the courses are going to be really technical and really demanding and it’s really an exciting sport to watch. Even if you don’t know much about the sport it’s kind of easy to understand—you knock a pole down, it’s bad, you jump clear, it’s good. It’s incredible to see how in sync the horse and rider are. The jump-offs at this level are also really exciting—you will see the top riders go neck and neck trying to have the fastest time. Even if you are new the sport is so much fun to watch!

When did you know you wanted to be a professional rider?
I’ve been riding since I was about four years old, so there was really no one moment. It was always such a huge part of my life, and it kind of just naturally grew into where I am today. A big moment for me was when I went to compete in Europe for the first time. The shows over there are so incredible, and the crowds are amazing and it’s so exciting, it’s a true sport over there. That was when I could really see myself doing this as a professional.